« PreviousContinue »
Dr. Johnson. Whilst he was in Wiltshire, he attended some experiments that were made by a physician at Salisbury on the new kinds of air. In the course of the experiments frequent mention being made of Dr. Priestley, Dr. Johnson knit his brows, and in a stern manner inquired, 'Why do we hear so much of Dr. Priestley'?' He was very properly answered, “Sir, because we are indebted to him for these important discoveries.' On this Dr. Johnson appeared well content; and replied, 'Well, well, I believe we are; and let every man have the honour he has merited.'»
• I do not wonder at Johnson's displeasure when the name of Dr. Priestley was mentioned ; for I know no writer who has been suffered to publish more pernicious doctrines. I shall instance only three. First, Materialism ; by which mind is denied to human nature ; which, if believed, must deprive us of every elevated principle. Secondly, Necessity; or the doctrine that every action, whether good or bad, is included in an unchangeable and unavoidable system ; a notion utterly subversive of moral government. Thirdly, that we have no reason to think that the future world (which, as he is pleased to inform us, will be adapted to our merely improved nature) will be materially different from this ; which, if believed, would sink wretched mortals into despair, as they could no longer hope for the “rest that remaineth for the people of God," or for that happiness which is revealed to us as something beyond our present conceptions, but would feel themselves doomed to a continuation of the uneasy state under which they now groan. I say nothing of the petulant intemperance with which he dares to insult the venerable establishments of his country. As a specimen of his writings, I shall quote the following passage, which appears to me equally absurd and impious, and which might have been retorted upon him by the men who were prosecuted for hurning his house. “ I cannot," says he,
as a necessarian (meaning necessitarian), hate any man; because I consider him as being, in all respects, just what God has made him to be; and also as doing, with respect to me, nothing but what he was expressly designed and appointed to do: God being the only cause, and men nothing more than the instruments in his hands to execute all his pleasure.”—Illustrations of Philo. sophical Necessity, p. 111. The Reverend Dr. Parr, in a late tract, appears to suppose that Dr. Johnson not only endured, but almost solicited, an interview with Dr. Priestley. In justice to Dr. Johnson, I declare my firm belief that he never did. My illustrious friend was particularly resolute in not giving countenance to men whose writings he considered as pernicious to society. I was present at Oxford when Dr. Price, even before he had rendered himself so generally obnoxious by his zeal for the French revolution, came into a company where Johnson was, who instantly left the room. Much more would he have reprobated Dr. Priestley. Whoever wishes to see a perfect delineation of this Lite. rary Jack of all Trades may find it in an ingenious tract, entitled “ A Small Whole-Length of Dr. Priestley," printed for Rivingtons, in St. Paul's Church. yard.-BOSWELL. [The foregoing note produced a reply from Dr. Parr (Gent. Mag. March, 1795), in which he endeavoured to support his assertion by evidence, which, however, really contradicted him. For instead of Johnson's having solicited an interview (which was the point in dispute), Dr. Parr is obliged to admit that the meeting was at Mr. Paradise's dinner table, that Dr. Johnson did not solicit the interview, but was aware that Dr. Priestley was invited, and that he behaved to him with civility: and then Dr. Parr concludes, in a way that does little credit either to his accuracy or his candour, “Should Mr. Boswell be pleased to maintain that Dr. Johnson rather consented to the interview, than almost solicited it, I shall not object to the change of expression.”ED.)
“ A friend was one day, about two years before his death, struck with some instance of Dr. Johnson's great candour. “Well, sir,' said he, 'I will always say that you are a very candid man.' 'Will you ?' replied the doctor; “I doubt then you will be very singular. But, indeed, sir,' continued he, I look upon myself to be a man very much misunderstood. I am not an uncandid, nor am I a severe man. I sometimes say more than I mean, in jest; and people are apt to believe me serious: however, I am more candid than I was when I was younger. As I know more of mankind, I expect less of them, and am ready now to call a man a good man upon easier terms than I was formerly.
On his return from Heale he wrote to Dr. Burney:
"I came home on the 18th of September, at noon, to a very disconsolate bouse. You and I have lost our friends ; but you have more ends at home. My domestick companion is taken from me. She is much missed, for her acquisitions were many, and her curiosity universal ; so that she partook of every conversation. I am not well enough to go much out; and to sit, and eat, or fast alone, is very wearisome. I always mean to send my compliments to all the ladies.”
[As Miss Williams enjoyed a pension from Mrs. Montagu, Johnson thought himself bound to acquaint her with the death of the object of her charity.
* DR. JOHNSON TO MRS. MONTAGU.
“ 220 September, 1783. “ MADAM,—That respect which is always due to beneficence makes it fit that you should be informed, otherwise than by the papers, that, on the 6th of this month, died your pensioner, Anna Williams, of whom it may be truly said, that she received your bounty with gratitude, and enjoyed it with propriety, You perhaps have still her prayers.
"You have, madam, the satisfaction of having alleviated the sufferings of a woman of great merit, both intellectual and moral. Her curiosity was universal, her knowledge was very extensive, and she sustained forty years of misery with steady fortitude. Thirty years and more she had been my companion, and her death has left me very
desolate. “ That I have not written sooner, you may impute to absence, to ill health, to any thing rather than want of regard to the benefactress of my departed friend. I am, madam, your most humble servant,
His fortitude and patience met with severe trials during this year. The stroke of the palsy has been related circumstantially; but he was also afflicted with the gout, and was besides troubled with a complaint which not only was attended with immediate inconvenience, but threatened him with a chirurgical operation, from which most men would shrink. The complaint was a sarcocele, which Johnson bore with uncommon firmness, and was not at all frightened while he looked forward to amputation. He was attended by Mr. Pott and Mr. Cruikshank. I have before me a letter of the 30th of July, t! year, to Mr. Cruikshank, in which he says, “I am going to put myself into your hands:” and another, accorh-panying a set of his “ Lives of the Poets,” in which he says, “I beg your acceptance of these volumes, as an acknowledgment of the great favours which you have bestowed on, sir, your most obliged and most humble servant." I have in my possession several more letters from him to Mr. Cruikshank, and also to Dr. Mudge at Plymouth, which it would be improper to insert, as they are filled with unpleasing technical details. I shall, however, extract from his letters to Dr. Mudge such passages as show either a felicity of expression, or the undaunted state of his mind.
“ My conviction of your skill, and my belief of your friendship, determine me to entreat your opinion and advice."
“In this state I with great earnestness desire you to tell me what is to be done. Excision is doubtless necessary to the cure, and I know not any means of palliation. The operation is doubtless painful; but is it dangerous ? The pain I hope to endure with decency ; but I am loath to put life into much hazard.”
“By representing the gout as an antagonist to the palsy, you have said enough to make it welcome. This is not strictly the first fit, but I hope it is as good as the first ; for it is the second that ever confined me; and the first was ten years ago, much less fierce and fiery than this.”
Write, dear sir, what you can to inform or encourage me. The operation is not delayed by any fears or objections of mine."
“ TO BENNET LANGTON, ESQ.
“ London, 29th Sept. 1783. “DEAR SIR,—You may very reasonably charge me with in. sensibility of your kindness and that of Lady Rothes, since I have suffered so much time to pass without paying any acknowledgment. I now, at last, return my thanks; and why I did it not sooner I ought to tell you. I went into Wiltshire as soon as I well could, and was there much employed in palliating my own malady. Disease produces much selfishness. A man in pain is looking after ease, and lets most other things go as chance shall dispose of them. In the mean time I have lost a companion', to whom I have had recourse for domestick amusement for thirty years, and whose variety of knowledge never was exhausted ; and now return to a habitation vacant and desolate. I carry about a very troublesome and dangerous complaint, which admits no cure but by the chirurgical knife. Let me have your prayers. I am, &c. - SAM. JOHNSON.”
Happily the complaint abated without his being put to the torture of amputation. But we must surely admire the manly resolution which he discovered while it hung over him.
In a letter to the same gentleman he writes, “ The gout has within these four days come upon me with a violence which I never experienced before. It made me helpless as an infant.” And in another, having mentioned Mrs. Williams, he says,—“whose death following that of Levett has now made my house a solitude. She left her little substance to a charityschool. She is, I hope, where there is neither darkness', nor want, nor sorrow."
1 Mrs. Williams. --BOSWELL.
I wrote to him, begging to know the state of his health, and mentioned that “ Baxter's Anacreon, which is in the library at Auchinleck, was, I find, collated by my father in 1727 with the MS. belonging to the University of Leyden, and he has made a number of notes upon it. Would you advise me to publish a new edition of it?"
His answer was dated September 30.
“You should not make your letters such rarities, when you know, or might know, the uniform state of my health. It is very long since I heard from you; and that I have not answered is a very insufficient reason for the silence of a friend. Your Anacreon is a very uncommon book: neither London nor Cambridge can supply a copy of that edition. Whether it should be reprinted, you cannot do better than consult Lord Hailes. Besides my constant and radical disease, I have been for these ten days inuch harassed with the gout; but that has now remitted. I hope God will yet grant me a little longer life, and make me less unfit to appear before him.”
["TO MR. TOMKESON, IN SOUTHAMPTON-STREET, COVENT MS.
" Ist October, 1783. “SIR, I have known Mr. Lowe very familiarly a great while. I consider him as a man of very clear and vigorous understanding, and conceive his principles to be such that, whatever you transact with him, you have nothing to expect from him unbecoming a gentleman. I am, sir, your humble servant,
" Sam. JOHNSON."
'(An allusion to her blindness.-ED.]